Howard County Executive Ken Ulman today provided an update one year after the formation of the Howard County Joint Task Force on School Safety, created immediately after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. All Howard elementary schools will have secure buzzer entries by the end of the year and that the county's 911 Center now receives video feeds from cameras in schools, Ulman and other officials said.
Ulman was joined by Howard County Public School System Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose, Police Chief William McMahon and County Council Vice-Chair Courtney Watson to announce significant progress in each area covered by the Task Force report, completed in March.
Among the improvements highlighted today:
• All elementary schools will have a buzz-in entrance system by the end of December 2013. • All middle schools will have a buzz-in entrance system by the end of Spring 2014. • 212 school buses will have on-board camera systems by January 2014. • The Howard County Police Department now has access to school security cameras during emergencies. • Intruder and lock-down exercises have been conducted at all schools. • Coordination of emergency plans for other school facility users, such as the Department of Recreation and Parks, has taken place.
"It is the right time to take stock of where we are, a year after the Newtown tragedy," said Executive Ulman. "A year ago, we put together a joint Task Force to examine school safety. We are systematically implementing their findings. This is not a report gathering dust. We are making our community safer."
"No priority is higher than the safety of our children," said Superintendent Foose. "Part of being a world-class school system is creating a culture where children are secure. We are doing that."
"We've accomplished a tremendous amount in a short period of time," said Police Chief McMahon, who served as a co-chair of the Task Force. "We are much better off than we were a year ago, but there is more to do."
Councilmember Watson, a former member of the Board of Education, thanked the parents and other community members who provided ideas and feedback over the past year to assist with security efforts. "Parents and teachers can see needs that we might not recognize," Watson said. "Their involvement was critical in this process."
Ulman, Foose and other officials received a briefing inside the County's 911 center, and a demonstration of how cameras at schools can now be monitored during emergencies. Chief McMahon said that the system has been helpful during incidents such as after-hour alarms.
Officials also said that, based on task force recommendations, awareness and training regarding mental health issues had been intensified, and the County's anti-bullying initiative, Stand Up HoCo, was helping to fulfill the needs identified by the task force.